Boston College peaking at right time
Third consecutive Beanpot title has Eagles feeling confident
As pleased as he was with his team's effort on Monday night in the finals of the 60th annual Beanpot Tournament -- despite a 3-2 overtime loss to archrival Boston College -- Boston University head coach Jack Parker couldn't help but be disturbed by one thing.
"We’ve won this tournament eight times in the 90s and seven times in the 2000s," the Terriers bench boss said. "Now, we haven't won one yet in the 2010s, so we've got our work cut out for us the rest of this decade to get something done."
On the long side of the score, BC captain Tommy Cross wasn't about to boast about his class' dominance of the Beanpot, "I don't know that BC's taking over the Beanpot," the senior defenseman said. However, there is something very satisfying for the Eagles about winning Boston's famous tournament for the third year in a row, a feat that BC had not accomplished since head coach Jerry York was a sophomore at the Heights himself.
"We played well," York said. "Parker [Milner] withstood [BU goaltender Kieran] Millan, and that's a hard matchup for him. He made some bigtime saves. Our team was really coming on strong at the end."
Even more satisfying, however, is the fact that after a long stretch of uncertainty in the middle of the season, the Eagles have regained the form that had them regarded as one of the top contenders for the NCAA Championship when the 2011-12 season began.
After winning a second Hockey East championship last March before bowing out to Colorado College in the first round of the NCAA West Regional, BC opened the season as the No. 5 team in both national polls, and ascended to the top spot on multiple occasions while opening the season 8-1 with victories against Michigan State, North Dakota and current Hockey East leader UMass-Lowell.
After that weekend sweep of the River Hawks, however, the Eagles ran through a stretch where they didn't fly quite as high. BC went 3-3 in November, repeated that record in December, and went 1-3-1 in the first five games of 2012. The Eagles' early strength was keeping them in the top 10, but there was little momentum to speak of.
Lately, though, that hasn't been the case. Monday's win against BU was the fifth in a row for BC, and the Eagles entered the week as No. 3 and No. 4 in the USCHO and USA Today polls, respectively.
It's quite likely that no one is feeling that momentum more than junior goaltender Parker Milner. The Pittsburgh native hadn't played badly during the Eagles' struggles in November and December -- he posted a 2.15 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage during that span -- but he was inconsistent, to the point where the Eagles gave a look to freshman Brian Billett and senior Chris Venti.
"He'd been kind of in and out during the course of the year," York said. "Even early in the season, we were winning games, but he wasn't as sharp. I think the competition has made him work harder in practice and just get better. Competition always drives people to get better and he's better now."
Neither Billett nor Venti was able to establish himself in the position, and Milner retook his spot in the Eagles' crease on Jan. 27 against New Hampshire after not playing since a 2-1 win against Michigan Tech in the consolation game of the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 30. The results have been outstanding, as Milner has posted a 5-0-0 record with a .928 save percentage and a 1.62 goals-against average, highlighted by a 32-save effort in nearly 80 minutes against BU in the Beanpot final.
"He's really come on strong lately," Cross said. "We have competition at every position on our team, and goaltender's no different. Those guys push each other every day, and I think it's made Parker better, and his attitude's remained very positive. I think he really took it upon himself to take over that spot."
The New Hampshire series also marked the appearance of a new top line combination for the Eagles, with sophomore Bill Arnold playing between junior Steven Whitney and senior Barry Almeida. In the five games since they've been together, Almeida has six points, Whitney has five and Arnold was the overtime hero in the Beanpot, scoring the winning goal on assists from Almeida and Whitney.
"Barry and Steve are two guys that are really fun to play with," Arnold said. "They play in all three zones and I feel like we have a lot of chemistry together."
Overall, as the season heads toward the home stretch, York is happy with his team. It's uncertain where things will go from here: Lowell still leads Hockey East, and with the season series tied at two games apiece, the Terriers would undoubtedly love another shot at their Commonwealth Avenue rivals. Regardless, York knows that whatever happens, he has a program he can be proud of.
"We really have done an outstanding job recruiting the right type of student-athlete to BC," York said. "We've got some outstanding young guys, and their hockey skills are just what I thought they'd be when we recruited them. You need a lot of good hockey players to be successful at this level, and I think that's probably the main thing."